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Washington State Dental Association

Parrish or Perish: How Generous We Are

Back in the Dark Ages in 2001, when I was President of this fine organization, I had the opportunity to travel the state and visit various components and get a first-hand look at what dentists were doing locally. I came away with the sense that we were among the most generous people I knew; practically every dentist had some form of “charitable giving” built into their professional life. Some worked in charitable clinics, some had informal care programs set up within their practices, others went overseas and most were generous givers to various charities and non-profits, either their time and talent or their monetary resources. I have no reason to believe this has done nothing but expand in the intervening 15 years.

I recently came across a synopsis of a talk delivered by Karl Zinmeister to a group at Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center in D.C. Mr. Zinmeister is vice president for publications at the Philanthropy Roundtable. He is the author of The Almanac of American Philanthropy; clearly he has some knowledge on the subject.

Among the many revelations in his talk were that the nonprofit sector is about 6 percent of the Gross Domestic Product and comprises 11 percent of the total work force, not including volunteers. Philanthropy in the U.S. is mostly done by “the common people”; less than 20 percent of charitable giving comes from corporations and foundations. The average per year giving is $2,500 per household. When you consider the many households unable or unwilling to give, there are a lot of families giving far more than $2,500 annually. This wide ranging source of giving leads to a broad spectrum of contributions to many different organizations and causes.

But there are some other statistics to consider. We all know about the Gates Foundation and the great work it does throughout the world, especially in the realm of medical care/treatment/research. It distributes more overseas than the entire Italian government, but it is still just a tiny portion of American philanthropy. U.S. religious groups send 4 ½ times as much overseas ($39 billion) as the Gates Foundation and more than the entire U.S. government foreign aid budget annually ($31 billion).

Consider the ADA Foundation: in 2014 they gave $1.3 million in charitable assistance, access to care programs, research and educational grants. The UW Dental School received funds for its UW Homeless Outreach Program and Education (UW HOPE) from the Foundation. Dr. Bea Gandara of the UW SOD noted following that contribution, “We are honored to have UW HOPE receive this award and the opportunity it gives us to expand our program and engage more students in learning about and serving our homeless communities.” I commend the UW and Bea for getting them started early.
The Seattle-King County Dental Foundation has given away over a million dollars since its inception in 1992. Snohomish County Dental Society also has a foundation that contributes resources to the community. Mt. Baker District Dental Society had long supported the Interfaith Clinic. Other components are equally as generous. All the major dental suppliers and manufacturers have a foundation that contributes much.

In 2015 the Seattle King County Clinic provided over $1.8 million in dental services thanks to the generosity many community groups and over 3,800 volunteers, including 1000 dental professionals. Medical Teams International delivered $2.7 million in care in 2015 through its dental vans, again thanks to many of you who volunteer to serve there. In 2014 the Missions of Mercy around the country provided over $30 million in free services, and that program has grown since then. Again, this is the result of direct dentist participation.

Both the WSDA and the ADA have tried unsuccessfully to quantify the value of the dental care “written off” or donated annually by dentists through their offices (and yes, the low reimbursement of Medicaid constitutes a “write off”). While no reliable number has ever been published, the various attempts have revealed very significant amounts rivaling the amount spent by the State in its Medicaid program. It is just too much of a hassle for most dentists to track; we would rather just go about our business providing care for those who both can pay and those who cannot and not deal with the bureaucracy.

For decades I have been delighted and surprised by the number of people I hear about providing care to folks in foreign countries. It happens every few months when I hear, “did you know Dr. Smith goes to Outer Mongolia every year with her church?” I know Dr. Smith somewhat, and I never knew; she is just too modest to broadcast her good deeds—a typical dentist. 

There’s a reason for all this: we are good, generous people. We get negative publicity for shooting lions, not wanting DHATs or having a tragic accident in the office, but hardly is there a story about the good we do, and it is certainly never put into perspective with the entire system of the dental safety net. Sure we have some “bad apples” who give us a black eye, but, by in large, we are a generous people. If you have not donated some of you time, talent and treasure helping others, jump on board the train with us. It is the classic: “I get much more out of it than I give.” Lots of organizations and lots of people are there to serve. You will enjoy it when you do.

Dr. Jeffrey Parrish
Editorial, WSDA News, Issue 6

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